Hagerty Hasn't Lost Hope

For left-hander Luke Hagerty, it wasn't supposed to be this way. He wasn't planning on elbow problems that led to Tommy John Surgery less than a year after he was drafted, nor was he supposed to be struggling just to learn how to throw strikes at this point in his career.

The year 2006 has served as a painful reminder of just how disappointing the Cubs' 2002 draft has panned out thus far.

Of their four first-round selections that year, Matt Clanton is no longer with the organization after a chorus of injuries and run-in's with management; Chadd Blasko hasn't pitched in a live game in two years now; Bobby Brownlie, the first of those picks, currently finds himself back in Double-A and being hit to the tune of a 4.60 ERA and plus-.300 average against.

Then there's Hagerty, who is having to learn how to pitch all over again.

"I'm not injured. I never was injured [this year]. I just wasn't throwing strikes," Hagerty says of his short-lived two-game stint at Class High A Daytona to open the season. "Same thing that I've been dealing with the last year and a half."

Following a promising start to his professional career with short-season Class Low A Boise in 2002, in which he won five of his 10 starts and posted a 1.13 ERA in 48 innings, Hagerty missed all of 2003 with "Tommy John" and made only eight appearances the following year between the Hawks and Mesa Cubs of the Arizona Rookie League.

Last year, he returned to Boise for another stint and the control problems really began to surface. In just 6 2/3 innings with the team, Hagerty walked a whopping 30 batters en route to an ERA of over 30 points.

The trend continued at Daytona to start 2006, when Hagerty walked nine in two starts, which totaled only three innings in all.

When the Hawks roster was announced on Friday, Hagerty's name was nowhere on the list. The southpaw instead finds himself still with the organization in Extended Spring Training, where he'll remain indefinitely.

He knows he won't be assigned to any of the Cubs' primary minor league affiliates until he's able to sort out the control problems that have plagued him since he returned from elbow surgery.

"I'm not in any hurry," Hagerty said. "I'm just trying to show the organization that I can come back. I'm not sure why things have gone the way they have for me. My arm feels great and I haven't been sore at all. My velocity is there. My slider is coming along well. I don't know how to describe it. I just need to get some control and I'll be fine."

In the meantime, Hagerty is throwing side sessions and getting work in with various target practice drills. He says his confidence is still high despite all of the struggles and setbacks. He also believes that his control is starting to come around in target practice since he's been in "Extended."

One area that could explain a good portion of Hagerty's struggles is his mental approach. If nothing is physically wrong with him, could his struggles be the result of mental worries?

"That's all it is," Hagerty answers. "It's all mental. There's nothing wrong with my mechanics or with my delivery. It's all in my head. It creeps into your mind. It's one of those things that gets into your head and you try not to think all of the negative things."

To combat some of the inefficiencies, the Cubs have Hagerty working on various breathing exercises. One player in particular that Hagerty says has helped him fine-tune his mental approach has been Rich Hill.

Hill got off to hot starts in the minor leagues in each of the past two seasons despite his struggles with the major league club, and one of the reasons why, Hill has said, has been his approach to the game psychologically.

A fellow southpaw that originates from the same draft as Hagerty, Hill credits the book "Thinking Body, Dancing Mind" for a crucial role in his success in the farm system the past two years. He is now sharing that knowledge with Hagerty.

"I've talked to Rich about this a lot," Hagerty said. "I read the same book he's read and I've read a lot of books about this sort of thing."

In the meantime, the Cubs say they are still confident in Hagerty with hopes that he'll eventually turn things around.

"He's progressing slowly," Director of Player Development Oneri Fleita said. "But we're going to move at Luke's pace."

Said Hagerty, "I think I'll be fine."


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